Irreverent, effervescent reexamination of early exploration in the Americas by peripatetic, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Horwitz (The Devil May Care: 50 Intrepid Americans and Their Quest for the Unknown, 2003, etc.).
What do Americans really know about the discovery of their continent? Visiting the sadly puny Plymouth Rock prompted this energetic, likable author to delve into the historic record and sniff out the real story behind America’s creation myth, from one section of the country to the other. The Vikings arrived first around 1000 CE, when Leif Eiriksson settled for a spell in Newfoundland, enjoying the grapes and mild weather before being run off by the native Skraelings. Horwitz sought out the probable descendants of these natives, the Micmac, who invited him to a cleansing ceremony in their sweat lodge. Next, the author studied the mixed-up voyages of Columbus, whose ignorance of the globe led him to believe that the eastern Bahamas, where he first landed, was the Orient. While the Spanish were claiming the Caribbean, Mexico and Peru, Ponce de León, a veteran of Columbus’s second voyage, struck Daytona Beach in 1513 and named the land La Florida. Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca made inroads through Florida and Texas between 1528 and 1536, while ruthless Hernando de Soto cut throughout the South a pitiless swath of destruction and slaughter of natives. These voyages came long before Sir Walter Raleigh sent English colonists to settle on Roanoke Island, Va., in 1585. By 1540, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado penetrated the Southwest from Mexico in search of fabled cities, and in Florida, a little-known Huguenot settlement established in 1564 at La Caroline was wiped out by Spanish invaders. The author revisited all of these sites to speak to the locals, who are often as colorful as the forgotten history he was tracking.
Accessible to all ages, hands-on and immensely readable, this book invites readers to search out America’s story for themselves.